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  • It was a prison within a detention center within a British army camp.

  • It had barbed wire topped fences over 15 feet high.

  • Its concrete walls were so thick, it would take an air strike to penetrate them.

  • Maze Prison was inescapable- until it wasn't.

  • Opened in 1971, Maze prison was created to house Irish Republican Army prisoners during

  • the Troubles that plagued Great Britain and Ireland in the late 20th century.

  • The prison however quickly drew the ire of locals as the British enacted a policy of

  • imprisonment without trial for anyone suspected of being part of the IRA.

  • Shockingly for a modern Democratic nation, this policy would continue for four four years

  • until it was terminated in 1975.

  • Designed to hold Britain's public enemies number one, Maze prison consisted of several

  • prison blocks, or wings, which were each a self-contained prison.

  • Prisoners never needed to leave one block to visit another for any reason, and movement

  • within each was strictly limited and monitored by the prison staff.

  • Each block was surrounded by an 18 foot concrete wall (5.5 meters), and the entire prison complex

  • was surrounded by a 15 foot (4.6 meter) fence topped with barbed wire.

  • The walls of the prison were considered blast proof- given the IRA's penchant for making

  • explosives this was not an unreasonable precaution- and it would take a full-blown airstrike to

  • penetrate each block's solid concrete walls.

  • The gates leading in and out of each block, and into the facility itself, were all solid

  • steel and controlled remotely by a control center at the center of the H formation that

  • the prison complex formed.

  • It was Europe's most escape-proof prison, but the IRA had something to say about that.

  • The IRA viewed themselves as military combatants, and not terrorists or political prisoners

  • as the British government saw them.

  • This meant that every IRA member housed within any British prison had the same duty as a

  • military soldier did- escape at any cost.

  • Luckily for the IRA inside Maze prison, they had the perfect man to lead the effort.

  • Larry Marley had already been imprisoned once by the British in 1975, and while awaiting

  • trial in a courthouse he led nine other IRA men to freedom.

  • After being recaptured two years later and moved to Maze prison, he nearly escaped again

  • by dressing as a prison warden, even making it out of his prison block.

  • He was found out just before escaping the final perimeter of security though.

  • Still seeking to escape prison, in 1983 Marley recruited IRA members Bobby Storey, Gerry

  • Kelly, and Brendan McFarlene.

  • The men organized themselves like a military unit, with Marley in command.

  • Each prison block would have an escape officer, in charge of his block's men, and each block

  • also had an intelligence officer assigned to it, whose job was to learn as much about

  • the prison layout and the guards as possible.

  • Exactly like a military operation, information on the overall escape plan was at all times

  • highly compartmentalized, only those with a need-to-know were ever told the full details

  • of the plan.

  • Instead, each man involved below the commanding ranks knew only as much as they needed to

  • in order to fulfill their role.

  • This would ensure that if any of the men were captured, the likelihood of the plan being

  • exposed would be greatly reduced.

  • The first step was to learn the layout of the prison facility.

  • Despite being imprisoned within, the men actually knew little about how the prison was laid

  • out.

  • The British authorities were extremely careful to keep the prisoners from discovering the

  • layout of the prison, even moving prisoners between buildings in blacked-out vans.

  • The escapees however would get around this lack of information by enlisting help from

  • the outside.

  • As they were still allowed visitation rights, family members would smuggle in aerial photographs

  • printed in the media as well as ordnance survey maps.

  • Now the prisoners knew where they were being held and which way led to freedom, but the

  • next step of the plan might be even more difficult than the escape itself.

  • For years the IRA had conducted blanket protests within Maze prison.

  • Seeing themselves as political prisoners, and not normal criminals, they had for a long

  • time been allowed special privileges and the right to not wear the standard prison uniform.

  • Things changed in 1976 however, when the British government stripped these privileges away

  • from IRA combatants, labeling them as common criminals.

  • In outcry, IRA prisoners had refused to wear their uniforms and instead took to wearing

  • their sleeping blankets instead.

  • To further voice their dissent, they undertook several years of 'dirty protests' within Maze

  • prison, with prisoners smearing the walls of their cells with their own excrement, and

  • attacking the guards with bodily fluids.

  • This had left a deep enmity and open hatred between the guards and the prisoners, and

  • if this prison escape was to succeed, the IRA had to change this relationship dramatically.

  • The goal was to learn the weaknesses of each individual guard, and how they might be best

  • overcome or manipulated.

  • Prisoners began to call guards by their first names, and actively worked to resolve conflicts

  • between the guards and other prisoners in order to ingratiate themselves to the guards.

  • They would chat about their shared love of football to the guards, and even engage in

  • small kindnesses like making tea for them while on their assigned duties.

  • Despite resistance from other Irish nationalists in the prison, the plan slowly began to work.

  • Many guards remained suspicious, but many more began to believe that they had at last

  • broken their prisoners, and began to slowly reveal small details of the function of the

  • prison such as when shift changes happened and when the prison was most busy.

  • The improved behavior of the prisoners led the authorities to grant them special jobs

  • such as working as orderlies around the prison complex.

  • This allowed the would-be escapees to better learn the layout of the prison complex, gain

  • more information on the guards, and even afforded them access to some of the control rooms.

  • Sent to polish the floors and clean the general area, the escapees had full views of the security

  • cameras and could learn even more details about the prison and more importantly what

  • the cameras did or did not see.

  • The kindness offensive was working to such a degree, that prison guards even began to

  • leave the door open to some of the control rooms, allowing air into the stuffy rooms.

  • Armed with months of information, the commanding officers of the escape began to put their

  • plan down on paper.

  • They included all information they had on shift changes, patrol routes, camera blindspots,

  • and most importantly, alarm points from where guards could trigger an alarm.

  • Then, the plan was smuggled out of the prison and shown to IRA leadership on the outside,

  • who would have the ultimate approval over the plan.

  • Within days, the plan was approved.

  • But the escapees would need help if they were to break out.

  • Six guns were smuggled into Maze prison, and the exact way that they were smuggled remains

  • an IRA secret to this day.

  • The prisoners now had the intelligence and the means to take control of H7 Block of the

  • prison, but they still needed to figure out a way to penetrate the various layers of security

  • between them and the outside world.

  • Scaling the fences would be impossible, and even if they did they would have to contend

  • with armed British military guards outside, who would shoot an escapee on sight.

  • With no access to tools, an escape tunnel was impossible, and the thick concrete wall

  • outside of H7 Block couldn't be blasted open even if the IRA managed to smuggle explosives

  • inside.

  • The escapees quickly turned their attention to the food truck that brought in their meals

  • every day.

  • The truck was frequently given free pass to enter and go without being searched, as the

  • guards knew the sole driver of the truck very well by now.

  • To their further advantage, the truck also routinely made stops at every one of the Maze's

  • prison blocks.

  • It was basically a free ticket out of the prison.

  • On 25 September, 1983, the plan was put into action.

  • September 25th was a Sunday, and chosen on purpose by the escapees.

  • Sunday was a closed day, meaning no visits into the prison, and no movement within it.

  • All of the prisoners remained in their blocks, and believing the prisoners to be secure,

  • the guards typically relaxed.

  • Without as much activity in the prison, the number of prison staff was also lower than

  • usual.

  • The escape began with Brendan McFarlane scoping out the guards in the block.

  • He needed 12 prison guard uniforms, and needed to match 12 of the guards on duty with 12

  • of his men, ensuring the uniforms would fit them.

  • Once he'd made his selections, McFarlane began to shout for the use of a 'bumper', or the

  • machine used to polish the prison floors.

  • This was the go word, and the plan was launched into action.

  • The IRA had forbidden the use of the guns except unless strictly necessary, as they

  • wished to portray themselves in a positive light to the media.

  • Thus shooting or even beating the guards was prohibited unless necessary, and the prisoners

  • resorted to a shock and awe strategy of overwhelming the guards with verbal abuse.

  • Four guards were immediately captured in one room, prompting the beginning of the taking

  • of 17 other guards outside.

  • The prisoners had no way of communicating except line of sight, so one prisoner would

  • overpower a guard as soon as he saw another prisoner begin his attack.

  • The guards had to be overpowered within seconds of each other in order to prevent an alarm

  • from being sounded.

  • The group's biggest problem was prison officer John Adams, who sat inside the control room

  • with easy access to a phone and alarm.

  • A metal bar door barred their access to Adams, so Gerry Kelly was assigned to neutralize

  • Adam with a gun.

  • He slid the gun through the bars and pointed it at Adams, telling him not to move or touch

  • any of the alarms.

  • Then, an officer they hadn't expected exited the women's restroom outside the control room.

  • The confusion briefly drew everyone's attention away and Adams lunged for the alarm.

  • Kelly shot Adams twice, hitting him once right above the eye.

  • A glancing blow, the impact knocked Adams unconscious for thirty seconds, but he quickly

  • recovered.

  • Bleeding from the injury, the prisoners wrapped his head up and then brought all the prisoners

  • to a classroom where 12 were forced to strip.

  • 12 of the IRA men put on the prison guard uniforms, and then the guards were read the

  • following statement: This is an IRA operation.

  • We're not here for revenge or to punish you over the hunger strikes, but if you interfere

  • with the escape, you'll be dealt with swiftly.”

  • In just 20 minutes, the IRA escapees had seized control of their prison block.

  • Next was securing their ticket out of the prison facility.

  • A half hour later, the food delivery truck arrived at H-block to deliver the evening's

  • meals.

  • The capture and coercion of the truck driver was vital to the plan's success, as the guards

  • at the gates knew the driver's face well by now.

  • Nobody could take his place, so securing his cooperation was vital.

  • After being seized by the escapees, Bobby Storey told the driver,

  • This block is now in the hands of the IRA.

  • All screws who obeyed our orders are safe.

  • One who didn't was shot in the head.

  • We will shoot anyone who endangers our planned escape, including you.”

  • Then Storey motioned at Gerry Kelly, the man who had shot Adams in the head.

  • that man will remain with you throughout the escape.

  • He is doing 30 years and he'll shoot you without hesitation if he has to.

  • He has nothing to lose.”

  • The truck was loaded with 37 prisoners, and Kelly slid into the footwell of the front

  • seats, pointing his gun at the driver the whole time.

  • Kelly added to his threats, telling the driver that a grenade had been placed under his seat

  • and would explode if he attempted anything funny.

  • Given the circumstances, the driver was inclined to believe him.

  • They had their ride out, but they still had to make their way out of three separate gates.

  • To do so, they'd need to take over the control room of the main gate, known as the tally

  • lodge.

  • The 12 prisoners disguised as guards entered the control room and began to secure the officers

  • inside, while Kelly remained in the truck with a gun on the driver.

  • To make their escape successful, some inmates would have to remain in the control room to

  • watch over the guards, sacrificing their freedom for their compatriots.

  • All was going to plan, until a guard pressed a secret silent alarm.

  • A few moments later, the phone rang.

  • The prisoners grabbed the senior officer and with a gun to his head, told him to answer

  • the phone, warning that if he said anything wrong they'd kill him.

  • The prison's emergency control room was calling in response to the silent alarm, asking if

  • everything was alright.

  • The officer laughed it off, saying that one of the other guards had accidentally pressed

  • the alarm.

  • He was warned to tell his men to stop horsing around and reset the alarm.

  • The escape had been going perfectly, but numerous small delays had messed up the IRA's time

  • table.

  • The 12 prisoners dressed as guards who would stay behind to secure the other's escape were

  • in the control room, with the other 38 in the truck below.

  • Running late, the prisoners were forced to wait now as shift change occurred, and incoming

  • guards were promptly seized by the prisoners in the control tower.

  • However, being very quickly outnumbered, the guards eventually began to fight back.

  • The main gate was opened, but two officers wedged their cars into the gate, blocking

  • it.

  • The men in the truck rushed out and began fighting with the officers who had freed themselves.

  • A british army soldier in the watchtower above watched in confusion as the scene unfolded,

  • later saying that he didn't open fire because he couldn't tell who was who as many of the

  • escapees were dressed as guards.

  • In fact, he believed the guards were actually fighting amongst themselves.

  • With the plan in tatters, the IRA escapees rushed to the final gate and climbed over

  • it as the guards gave chase.

  • They opened fire on the guards as they ran, wounding one in the leg.

  • With a mad dash to freedom, 35 of the escapees managed to climb the final gate, with 3 getting

  • recaptured.

  • The IRA was supposed to be waiting with a vehicle convoy, but again due to bad timing

  • nobody awaited the prisoners, who were forced to run for it on foot or hijack any passing

  • cars.

  • Ultimately, the escape would leave only a single guard dead- officer James Ferris, who

  • suffered a heart attack after being stabbed.

  • 20 officers would suffer injuries, with four being stabbed and two shot.

  • 15 of the escapees were immediately recaptured by authorities on the very same day, with

  • the rest fleeing across the border to Ireland.

  • Now go watch How a prisoner simply walked out of prison, or click this other video instead.

It was a prison within a detention center within a British army camp.

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How 38 Men Escaped the Most Escape-Proof Prison

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/01
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